August 11, 2021

Why Can’t We Have Public Washrooms? And a Look at a Great “Pop-Up” in NYC


You know there is a problem when the former head of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Area, (DVBIA) the affable Charles Gauthier gets on Twitter to bemoan what we at Viewpoint Vancouver have been talking about: there are no public washrooms on commercial streets or at public transit stations or stops  where you need them.

Now retired, Charles was on a mall on Cambie Street and (surprise!) could not find a public washroom to use.

He obviously did not have our post on the Wallflower Cafe  at 2420 Cambie Street who kindly have opened their washroom to all that need it. He finally was able to find a grocery store employee  who had  the combination that would unlock the door to the mall washroom. Charles is a fan of obtaining more Decaux self-cleaning washrooms, a handful which has been installed in Vancouver.

 I have already written about desperately trying to find a washroom on South Granville Street, being turned down at a Starbucks I had just purchased from, and cajoling staff at a bookstore to allow me to use a taped off washroom because I had a purchase voucher for a store.

Why is negotiating to use a washroom even necessary? And how did the City not think that encouraging residents to take transit, walk and cycle might also mean seriously thinking about providing public washrooms for the public that can’t use their vehicles to rush home or use the facilities at a gas station?

And no surprise to any person walking, cycling or using public transit-public washrooms are the top request in TransLink’s current survey on needed transit amenities.

How did we even get here? In a city that is a place that children, seniors and everyone in between lives, everyone needs to use a washroom at some point and it should not be the businesses of the city that do the heavy lifting.

 Lezlie Lowe Author  of How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs  writes that we have two kinds of washrooms in Canada: publicly accessible but privately owned, and public toilets which are on street, funded by taxes, and universally available to everyone.  Canadians “make do” with mall washrooms and cafe washrooms, and nobody champions those that need to use public washrooms even though everyone needs to go.

Who does  public washrooms well in a big city in North America? If you google public washrooms,  most of the “best” are privately owned, but in public use, and are not really technically public toilets.

But there is one “pop up” public toilet that has become a tourist draw and a must see.

This  “pop up” public toilet is staffed and sponsored by Charmin Toilet paper in Times Square in New York City. This pop up appears  and is opened up during heavy tourist times and usually has  anywhere from 14 to 20 stalls.

The  public washrooms are clean, with attendants and even the Charmin Bear Mascot. Charmin has even developed “theme” washrooms with immersive sounds and sights from mountains to oceans in the washrooms. The Charmin public washrooms are usually open twelve hours a day during prime tourist months. While they are provided free of charge by the toilet paper company, they also demonstrate how public washrooms can be run, and how they can be  facilitated in cities where people gather in public areas.

Why can’t we have accessible, clean comfortable and convenient public washrooms in Vancouver?

Here’s a YouTube video from December 2017 showing some of the various scenes in the Charmin Public Washrooms in Times Square New York City.



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